Attendance at the event officially known as the North American International Auto Show was up this year, but it didn't set any records.
More good news coming during the show was that General Motors Co., which emerged from the ashes of the GM Corp. bankruptcy three years ago, sold more than 9 million vehicles worldwide in 2011, a 7.6 percent increase that helped GM reclaim the title of the world's largest automaker. Toyota fell to third after last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan and flooding disrupted parts and electronics made in Thailand.
Toyota had held the top carmaker spot since 2008. Germany's Volkswagen was second with worldwide sales of 8.16 million. GM wisely downplayed regaining the crown knowing full well that with production on track, Toyota will roar back as fast as factories get back up to speed.
Ford and Chrysler have yet to release their full-year sales but both have posted sales increases on the strength of improved passenger cars and SUVs.
Consumers bought nearly 4.8 million Chevrolet cars and trucks in 2011 -- a major comeback for the bowtie brand.
In the hybrid market Toyota's Prius outsold Chevy's Volt by a wide margin. Automotive News said Chevrolet delivered 7,611 Volts, the gas-electric hybrid that starts at nearly $40,000.
By comparison, Toyota sold 8,399 Prius v hybrids, its largest Prius, during just the final 10 weeks of last year and Priuses accounted for half of all hybrid sales, although overall hybrid sales were down 0.2 percent from 2010.
Hybrids comprised 2.4 percent of all 2010 auto sales and slipped to 2.2 percent of total vehicle sales last year, research conducted by LMC Automotive indicated. Toyota hopes to boost Prius sales 60 percent in 2012 to more than 220,000 units on the strength of the new v wagon, the plug-in hybrid Prius, the original Prius and the Prius c, a subcompact set to arrive in March, Automotive News said.
The compact Hyundai Elantra was named car of the year and the Land Rover Evoque was truck of the year at the Detroit auto show.
Organizers say 770,932 people checked out the more than 500 vehicles on display during the show's nine-day run, the highest attendance in Detroit since 2005. Turnout was better than the 725,000 expected but couldn't quite equal the record of more than 800,000 in 2003.
Industry analysts said this year's turnout shows public interest in new vehicles is growing after a few lean years.
"I still think this area, southeast Michigan, is still very much in love with the automobile," 2012 NAIAS Chairman Bill Perkins told the Detroit Free Press.
He said people want to feel good about the auto industry again.
"A lot of people counted Detroit down and out," he told The Detroit News, "but it has been a major year for the auto industry and our show."
Brave New World
Tempering the optimism was a report released during the show that indicates fewer "Millennials" -- teens and 20-somethings -- are all that wild about owning their own wheels.
"They look at buying a new car and financing and life in cities across the country and they ask themselves, do I really need to buy a new car right now," Ross Martin, chief of MTV Scratch, told The Wall Street Journal.
Automakers are pulling out the stops with hybrid technology and sexy electronics to appeal to youthful buyers at a time when youngsters are spending more time at home, connecting with friends via social networks, or older ones are migrating to big cities where good public transportation makes owning a car a luxury.
General Motors surveyed 9,000 16- to 30-year-olds last year and used their ideas to design two Chevrolet concept cars that would cost around $20,000 if produced.
GM North America head Mark Reuss told the Journal the results were the Tru 140S and the Code 130R concepts -- vehicles that seat four people and get 40 mpg.
A study conducted by the University of Michigan last year found fewer than one-third of U.S. 16-year-olds had a driver's license in 2008. That's down from nearly 50 percent in 1983. Nearly two-thirds of 18-year-olds had driver's licenses in 2008, compared to 80 percent in 1983.
But an automotive consultant for the accounting firm Deloitte says it will be the youthful consumer that moves Americans away from the traditional internal combustion engine to hybrids and plug-in electrics in a big way.
Toyota's Prius c will start at around $19,999 and get an estimated 53 mpg on the highway. Ford introduces a next-generation 2013 Fusion hybrid and an electric plug-in this fall, Honda is developing a plug-in hybrid version of the Accord sedan, and General Motors is offering hybrid versions of three family cars -- the Chevy Malibu, Buick LaCrosse and Buick Regal.
A Deloitte survey of Generation Y respondents -- the cohort defined as the nearly 80 million Americans between 19 and 31-years old -- indicated they want an "electrified" vehicle, meaning a hybrid, compared to just 2 percent opting for an all-electric plug-in. Thirty-seven percent preferred a traditional gasoline-powered vehicle, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Those computer savvy Gen Y'ers and Millennials also expect to drive cars with electronics that rival their smartphones and tablets, with nearly three-quarters preferring a touch screen on the dash, the survey found.
With the average U.S. vehicle nearly 11 years old, they can only drive hand-me-down and used cars so long.
Automotive market research firm R.L. Polk & Co., found the average age of the 240.5 million cars and light trucks on the road in the United States hit 10.8 years in 2011, up from 10.4 years.
The average passenger car was 11.1 years old in 2011, up from 11 years old, while pickups and SUVs averaged 10.4 years, up from 10.1.
Saab Cars North America is liquidating.
The news comes a month after the parent company Saab Automobile filed for bankruptcy in Sweden.
Jim McTevia, the administrator named to operate Saab Cars North America headquartered in Royal Oak, Mich., told Automotive News about 80 percent of its employees were laid off Jan. 13 and he was seeking a buyer for Saab's U.S. parts distribution business.
The Michigan operation will shut down by the end of February, Crain's Detroit Business said. Saab's 188 U.S. dealerships are able to get parts.
"We notified creditors that it is our opinion that there is no way to salvage the company," said McTevia, head of McTevia & Associates. "There is no money to keep the company going until someone figures out what to do."
If you're looking for bargain basement closeout prices on the 2,200 or so unsold Saabs remaining at U.S. dealers -- forgetaboutit.
The New York Times last week said reports of $20,000 to $30,000 discounts were online fiction although dealer Web sites did advertise $12,000 back on new 9-5 models or $8,000 on a Saab 9-3.
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